I've never told anyone this before, but Bernie Bickerstaff once received a compliment from me. I'm not a fan, so this is something I rarely share... and to be fair, it was a backhanded compliment at best. I believe my exact words were, "Wow. He didn't ruin this one."
February 4th, 1996, in the midst of a "it feels like we should be better than this" season, the team with the best single-season record ever - the Chicago Bulls - dropped by McNichols Arena to visit your Denver Nuggets and wandered off without a win. The eventual 72-10, world-champion Bulls played all the right guys in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Toni Kukoc. Of those, only Pippen had a rough shooting night, while Jordan did his usual, going off for 39 points in the game.
The Nuggets countered with Dikembe Mutombo, Antonio McDyess, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Dale Ellis, Bryant Stith, and LaPhonso Ellis. All six would have broken double digits if Stith had made one more free throw in the game (he went one for two). Rauf went off for 32. That loss would be the first of the Bulls only multi-game slide all season, when they dropped a game at Phoenix two nights later.
Last night's win over the Golden State Warriors might have been equally as satisfying a win for a basketball team that has been overdue. Overdue for a reward in a long-suffering season with a steep learning curve. I'm pretty certain several of the curse-laden pseudo-invitations I vocalized to the Warriors by proxy of my television last night may have been uttered by a younger Molson at the conclusion of the Bulls game in '96.
Conversely, I can certainly understand the narrative/commentary on last night's game by national media and Warriors fans alike, most leaning more towards a letdown by the machine that is this year's Golden State squad. Early this season, I started watching the Warriors when I could, begrudgingly. I dropped the begrudging part not long after. I sincerely hope they set a new record for single season wins this year. I'm not all roses about the team that's broken the Nuggets hearts in a number of ways the past few seasons, so there's a second half to that hope I'll share in the thread below. If you enjoy watching the game, it's hard to not admire the way the Warriors play it.
Which only made last night that much more satisfying. For the Nuggets faithful, the win was equally a story of a Denver team starting to find its rhythm. One of the local broadcast crew, Scott Hastings, said it well regarding last night's effort, "Hard work and good execution often yield good results." Last night saw a Denver team that worked hard, executed, and had a chip on their collective shoulder, as they knew a few things entering the game:
- They'd recently pushed the Golden State Warriors to overtime at Oracle Arena - with a returning Jusuf Nurkic playing all of five minutes.
- Draymond Green, who'd gone off for a game-high 29 points in the previous contest, would be sitting.
- Their home court arena would be filled with fans for one of the few times this season, with several folks prepared to cheer for whoever was doing well. If you missed yesterday's in-depth piece by Jeff Morton on why the arena's seating has had more free space than Kim Kardashian's parietal lobe, give it a whirl. It will help you grasp just how rare these high-attendance opportunities have been for this season's team. Hopefully, a few fans were made last night.
What will this mean for the season as a whole? Recent history suggests not much, as those Bulls went on to glory that season in records and rings. The most terrifying stat of that Bulls season to me: they lost three of their last 15 games, each of those losses by a single point. Good god. The 1995-1996 Nuggets were 19-26 coming into the evening, and finished the year a frustrating 35-47. Adding insult to injury, it would be Mutombo's last season with the team. Bottom line, there are no guarantees out of a meaningful win, other than the satisfaction of one game going your team's way. What I liked about what I saw last night was the strength and commitment of a team trying to do things the same way, and enjoying some success in those efforts against the class of the league.
Six games ago, when asked about his pride in pushing the Warriors to an overtime loss, coach Michael Malone simply said the team had already enjoyed enough "moral victories" for his taste. When asked about the satisfaction of the win last night, Malone looked fit to burst about the play of his team, citing their making "winning plays" in the clutch, calling specifically on the play of Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, and a resurgent Will Barton as keys to a hard-fought victory.
Here's hoping that this is a turning point for this young-and-talented squad, but even if the rest of the road is as bumpy as it statistically looks top be... last night was a game I'll long remember, partially because of its part in someone else's special season. Last night's win looked pretty special to Nuggets players and fans alike:
What say you, Nuggets Nation? Where does last night's win rank amongst some of your favorite regular season games?